Tuesday, 25 February 2014
On 23 February, Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi travelled to Arunachal Pradesh, close to a disputed Himalayan border, to hold an election rally in which he bluntly warned China against its territorial ambitions. Modi, who is currently the front-runner in the race to become India’s next prime minister, said that China "will have to leave behind its mind-set of expansion".
China’s Foreign Ministry on 24 February dismissed the latest comments, denying the country had expansionist territorial ambitions, instead framing the decades-long dispute as a sensitive hangover from history. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, replied by saying that "you can all see in history China has never actively launched a war of aggression to invade and occupy one inch of territory".
This rather diplomatic response is in stark contrast to the recent comments made by Beijing towards Tokyo, where it has also been accused of robust territorial aims in the East China Sea. Many see the unusually muted stance towards India as purely strategic, coming as it does in an election year. Worryingly for China, Japan’s Premier Shinzo Abe recently visited New Delhi and signed various peace and trade agreements with India’s incumbent Manmohan Singh in a bid to bolster ties between to the two nations.
India-China relations have been tense and prone to flare-ups since the two fought a border war in 1962, which saw tens of thousands of casualties on both sides. When Britain withdrew as the colonial power and granted independence to India in 1947, it left behind a myopic legacy of clumsily demarcated borders between India and its northern neighbours. The disputed land covers an area of 150,000 km2 along a 4,000 km frontier that has never been explicitly delineated. This is problematic, given that both countries account for around one third of the world's population, with a total GDP of over US$10 trillion.
In the last 50 years, the Asian giants have held 16 rounds of talks in an effort to settle their border dispute, almost to no avail. A border pact was signed in Beijing on 23 October 2013 following territorial incursions that brought tensions to the fore last year. Both sides have pledged to increase bilateral trade to US$100 billion by 2015, following a 20% drop in Indian exports to China last year.